Red light camera study


We’d rather see cameras at intersections than on the highways.

Don’t complain the next time you get a ticket because of a red light camera. According to a new study released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the U.S., that piece of equipment could save your life.

If you still dismiss the cameras as a money grab, consider this: the institute claims their research shows the cameras have already saved 159 lives between 2004 and 2008 in 14 large U.S. cities. The data was gathered by comparing red light crashes in 99 cities over two time periods, the first between 1992-1996, the latter between 2004-2008.

The study was intended to show the effect on traffic fatalities at intersections after cameras were introduced, so cities that had red light cameras in the earlier time period were excluded, as well as cities that only had cameras for part of the later time period.

In the 14 cities that had red light cameras starting in 2004, the combined per capita rate of fatalities caused by red light runners dropped 35 per cent compared to the earlier time period, while in the cities that had no cameras, red light fatalities fell by only 14 per cent.

This led researchers to claim a 24 per cent decrease in fatalities at red light intersections after the cameras were installed. 

Based on their numbers, the IIHS says that had the red light cameras been installed in every city studied over the 2004-2008 period, 815 lives could have been saved.

Cities with red light cameras also saw a 14 percent decrease in
fatalities at all traffic light intersections (not just those with
cameras), compared to a two per cent increase in cities without cameras.

We regard red light cameras as true safety features, unlike speed cameras which are purely a money grab. You gotta wonder just how much safer a city like Montreal would be — where red light running is epidemic — if red light cameras were installed at intersections.

According to the IIHS, 676 people were killed and 113,000 were injured in the U.S. in 2009 because of red light running. Of course, the IIHS has a vested interest in any reduction in vehicle accidents, but as motorcyclists, so do we.


  1. I was pedestering through downtown London, ON a few months ago. My friend and I stopped at an amber light to wait for it to change when we heard the familiar sound of a truck gunning it. We both turned around in amazement to see that it was a Police accident recreation vehicle.
    Blew right through the red!

  2. The article fails to mention the reduction in intersection accidents attributed to red light cameras occurred only after the courts ruled that the amber light duration was too short and had to be lengthened to a reasonable time which would permit drivers to actually exit the intersection before the light changed to red under normal traffic conditions.

  3. Depends where it happens. Every state/province has their own traffic laws. There are standards for how long yellow lights are supposed to be, but they vary from one state/province to the next, and there is some discussion that even the “official” DOT standard is probably a bit short, concerning how long that yellow needs to be. Bottom line is that if the yellow duration is shorter than the minimum standard then it could be argued, but if it is at the minimum or if there is no standard or nothing is written into law, good luck with it.

    As with ALL traffic enforcement … Safety is one thing, $afety is another, and far too many enforcement campaigns are more about $afety.

  4. It’s also a cash grab/revenue generator. I read an article in C&D conscerning how the yellow light cycle time is reduced by 1 second or more depending on the desired amount of revenue desired. There was a dollar figure for each second. Of course they’ll say they’re increasingly saving lives but they’re really increasing the budget. Do you think you could fight a red light camera ticket? with a short yellow light as a defense?

  5. I agree with Pat about the texting and cell phone use, but those are hard to enforce…but driver distraction is probably the single most dangerous problem on the roads…

    I also think the count down timer is a great idea…then you would know if you have enough time to make it through the intersection before the time is up…sometimes you are past the warning light (overhead flashers) so you assume you can proceed thru the light, but in winter sometimes people are being very “safe” and only going at 60% of the speed limit, which effectively makes the yellow short…a timer would help you guage that better.

    Someone also mentioned the “Halo effect”…there are quite a few reports that show that the camera intersection traffic drops, but the adjacent intersections get worse…people not wanting to receive pictures of their vehicles in the mail, but still wanting to “make good time”…it all really boils down to, we need more enforcement (which no-one really wants), and that means more money needed (money grab)…kind of a “catch 22″…


  6. Much of the problem in the States appears to be that municipalities contract out red-light cameras to Redflex or ATS, and then the profit objective comes in. The duration of the yellow light gets shortened (and countdown timers do NOT appear – that would be counter to the profit objective), and people get ticketed for making a right turn but stopping ahead of the stop line (necessary in order to see past the vehicle in the next lane – but normally not hazardous – and EVERYONE does this). Shortening the yellow leads to artificially more tickets – and more rear-end collisions because everyone slams on the brakes.

    If “safety” is the objective then have the red-light camera, but an appropriate yellow-light duration (or lengthen it by 1 second) and have a countdown timer, and exclude the right-turn situations … but then the number of tickets and profit becomes next to nil.

    I don’t have an objective to red-light cameras that are properly implemented with “safety” as the objective as long as it is not “$afety” …

  7. “I would rather have a count-down timer than a ticket in the mail from a red light camera. A little bit of advance warning goes a long way.”

    Uh, that’s what the yellow light is.

  8. I would rather have a count-down timer than a ticket in the mail from a red light camera. A little bit of advance warning goes a long way.

  9. If the light is red, you stop. Seems like a simple concept, eh?

    Not in Vancouver which makes red light runners in Montreal look like rank amateurs.

    I’m for anything which reduces the tendencies for assholes to ruin someone else’s day.

  10. Whether the study is biased or not, I support red light cameras. A friend got hurt quite badly by a red light runner a couple of years ago while riding to work. It’s a deterent at the very least and more effective at preventing car/motorcycle collisions than speed cameras, which are useless.

  11. Only one problem … the study was poorly done, and cherry-picked data to “prove” the point the IIHS wanted to make in the first place. The IIHS is well known for this, and they were behind the infamous and flawed study that led to the attempted “sportbike ban” in years past.

    Other studies have found either no difference or an increase in collisions (mostly rear-enders) at specific intersections with red-light cameras. The IIHS’s “halo effect” argument is nonsense and doesn’t take into account a multitude of other factors that could account for this. Notably, in Arizona, two entire freeways were built between the times that IIHS used for the “before” data and the “after” data. Think that could, possibly, just MAYBE, have some influence on the “before” and “after” traffic patterns?

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